Routine Politics and Violence in Argentina

The Gray Zone of State Power

Routine Politics and Violence in Argentina

Close to three hundred stores and supermarkets were looted during week-long food riots in Argentina in December 2001. Thirty-four people were reported dead and hundreds were injured. Among the looting crowds, activists from the Peronist party (the main political party in the country) were quite prominent. During the lootings, police officers were conspicuously absent - particularly when small stores were sacked. Through a combination of archival research, statistical analysis, multi-sited fieldwork, and taking heed of the perspective of contentious politics, this book provides an analytic description of the origins, course, meanings, and outcomes of the December 2001 wave of lootings in Argentina.


"This fascinating study of the Argentine food riots of December 2001 that brought down an elected president makes an important contribution to our understanding of contentious politics and to socio-political life more generally through its illumination of the understudied ‘grey zone’ where clandestine connections blur distinctions between everyday life, routine politics and collective violence. Auyero’s case study is well written and finely drawn, based on numerous interviews backed by a quantitative analysis for all relevant reported events. Especially striking are his findings on how critical action and inaction of political party brokers and the police were to the spread and then the ending of the food riots – but often in surprising ways. Auyero builds from his case material theoretically significant generalizations about the obscure and obscured actions of clientilistic party brokers facilitating widespread looting as police forces stand aside (or even participate themselves). This provocative work encourages us to look for the concealed connections between Routine Politics and Violence in many places beyond Argentina."
-Charles Brockett, University of the South

"[...]shows how collective violence is a collective product--of authority *and* opposition. This study helps us to understand the hidden ‘parallel politics’ of seeming social breakdown, and how Argentina has moved from military dictatorship to a ‘low-intensity democracy’ that systematically marginalizes large numbers of citizens and exempts an elected government from true accountability in the structures of social control."
-Alison Brysk, University of California-Irvine

"Riots are often seen as senseless episodes of rebellious disorder precipitated by – and symptomatic of – a breakdown of authority. Not to that careful student of the world of Argentina’s poor, Javier Auyero. His splendid interviews with participants, including victims, demonstrate the central roles of political brokers and police during a week of looting in 2001. His research compellingly shows the rootedness of this episode of collective violence in the everyday lives of the poor. As he shines his spotlight on what he calls ‘the grey zone,’ it is not an extraordinary absence of authority that is revealed, but its ordinary presence."
-John Markoff, University of Pittsburgh

"Auyero is a skilled ethnographer, and he makes ample use of 100 interviews with actors of all kinds to vividly reconstruct the ways participation made sense of their own roles and those of others around them. [...]it is worth noting the book's distinctive approach, which is a micro-level analysis of highly individual actors whose self-understandings are a central focus. When the book's questions remain at this micro-level[...]this is a very rewarding strategy, immediate in a way that few political analyses are."
-Kathryn Hochstetler, University of New Mexico, Perspectives on Politics


American Sociological Association Best Book Award in the Political Sociology Section 2008 - Winner